You don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the benefits of recoilless airgun shooting – Mat Manning gives his pick of five great affordable PCPs
Although some people have the skill to shoot very precisely with spring-powered airguns, pre-charged (or PCP) models are generally easier to shoot accurately because they don’t recoil. The extra engineering involved in producing that recoilless firing cycling has tended to make PCPs more expensive than springers, but the price gap is closing quite rapidly.
What to look for in a PCP airgun
Cutting costs can result in corner-cutting in the quality department but there are some surprisingly good affordable PCP airguns on the market. My advice to anyone shopping for an inexpensive pre-charged air rifle is to avoid anything that seems gimmicky and overloaded with unnecessary extras – ideally, you want to ensure that all your spend goes on build quality and not superfluous add-ons.
It is worth bearing in mind that, in most cases, you are going to have to add a telescopic sight, mounts and charging equipment (either in the shape of a scuba tank or a stirrup pump) to your overall spend. Once you’ve invested in charging gear, it’s a piece of hardware that should last for many years and provide a means of filling any other PCPs you go on to own.
An outlay of £500 should buy you a solid, accurate and reliable pre-charged air rifle. Here are some of my favourites that you’ll find on the racks of most gun shops.
1. ZBROIA HORTITSIA
This airgun retails for around £499.99 and was one of my big surprises from last year. I didn’t have great expectations when I heard I was set to review an airgun made in the Ukraine but I was very wrong, and this great little PCP now has a regular spot in my hunting line-up.
Find a pellet the Hortitsia likes and it will land one on top of another at 30m, and it still groups tightly at 40m. I favour the 330/180 carbine model, which measures a compact 89cm and weighs 3kg without a scope fitted. Being so small, it’s great gun for younger shooters but adults should also find it a good fit. Engineering and finish are very tidy and, although its design is not so traditional, the hardwood stock makes for a comfortable and balanced hold.
The Hortitsia boasts a straight-pull rear bolt action, which drives a pellet-friendly 12-shot magazine. The system makes for very fast reloading – it’s great fun on the plinking range and ensures quick follow-up shots in the field. Other features include two-stage trigger, manual safety catch, pressure gauge and shrouded barrel.
2. AIR ARMS S200 SPORTER
Another one that’s just on budget, this air rifle has a recommended retail price of £499, and it demonstrates just what a quality product you can get for a relatively moderate spend. The Air Arms S200, which is actually made by CZ, boasts match-winning accuracy and a standard of finish and engineering that’s equal to guns costing three times the price. The stock may look quite basic but it makes for a well-balanced gun that feels great in the shoulder.
This full-power PCP is just 92cm long and weighs a very manageable 2.6kg (unscoped), so it’s suitable for smaller shooters. Cocked by means of a rear bolt action, it returns around 50 shots from a 190bar fill. Equally at home on the target range or tackling small pests, the S200 is a single-shot gun, although a retro-fit ten-shot magazine is available. Features include an excellent fully-adjustable two-stage trigger, removable air cylinder and muzzle brake.
3. GAMO VENARI
I may have warned against budget PCPs that come with lots of extras but this one is an exception. Gamo has already earned a reputation for producing a great economy PCP combo with its Phox kit, and the Venari is another brilliant package.
This kit is based around an accurate and robustly constructed full-power air rifle with a ten-shot magazine-fed loading system that’s driven by a rear bolt action. Built to withstand heavy use, it features a tough synthetic stock with an adjustable cheek-piece. Keeping an eye on air reserves is easy, as there’s a pressure gauge at the front of the cylinder. It’s an adult-sized rifle, and weighs in at just over 3.5kg.
The Venari is an impressive gun for the money, and its £449 recommended retail price includes some very useful extras, which certainly aren’t a sales gimmick. Its threaded barrel comes equipped with a very effective sound moderator, and the kit also includes a 3-9×40 telescopic sight and mounts, and a detachable side-mounted folding bipod.
4. WALTHER ROTEX RM8 UC
Over recent years, the Walther Rotex RM8, made in Germany by Umarex, has gained a reputation for being an excellent air rifle which combines performance and affordability without cutting corners. This year, the UC, or Ultra Compact, variant has been added to the line-up. It has a recommended retail price of £449.99, and I reckon its shorter proportions make for an even better gun.
The UC comes supplied with a very effective sound moderator, and measure just 91cm with it fitted – take it off and, although a bit louder, the gun measures a really stubby 79cm. Tipping the scales at 3.8kg unscoped, it’s not a featherweight but the heft is testament to its solid build quality and it’s certainly not cumbersome.
Fast-reloading comes courtesy of an eight-shot magazine, which is driven by a side-bolt action that also sets the automatic safety catch. The UC has a very good two-stage trigger and, although compact, its buddy bottle holds a generous amount of air – you can expect around 160 shots from a 230bar fill. Remaining pressure is clearly displayed on a gauge on the underside of the stock.
5. WEBLEY RAIDER 12
The Webley brand has gone through some big changes over the years, and although these airguns are no longer made in the UK, the range still includes some decent affordable offerings. The Raider 12 is one of them, and although its £527.99 recommended retail price puts it just over budget, you should be able to find it well within the allocated price bracket if you shop around.
This full-power multi-shot airgun has a 14-shot magazine in .177 calibre and 12-shot in .22, and is driven by a very reliable sidelever action. The safety catch is sensibly positioned well above the trigger blade towards the rear of the action, and the barrel sits within a sleek full-length shroud.
Measuring 100cm and weighing in at 3.5kg unscoped, this airgun has been designed to fit an adult frame. Apart from being a solid performer it’s also a very nice-looking piece of kit, and features an elegantly contoured stock and a clearly-marked pressure gauge at the front of the cylinder.
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